Sunday, 22 October 2017

Castle Park parkrun

In the summer of 2017 it was announced that Hatfield Forest parkrun [venue blog], in Essex, would be closing down. Heartbreaking news to parkrunners near and far to be losing a run in such a special location, however this pristine forest area had served the parkrun community well and it was time for the event to move on. So in September 2017 Hatfield Forest parkrun held its last event. Seven days later, like the mythological phoenix, a new event rose from its ashes.

It is called Castle Park parkrun and takes place in Castle Park and Grange Paddocks which are green spaces in the historic town of Bishop's Stortford. The town is 5.7 miles (by road) or 5 miles (as the phoenix flies) to the west of Hatfield Forest. As well as moving physical location, the event also changes from being an Essex parkrun venue to being a Hertfordshire parkrun venue.

castle park, bishops stortford

Bishops Stortford currently has a population of around 38,000 people and has grown around the River Stort. Known in Saxon times as Steort-ford (the ford at the tongue of the land), the town actually gave its name to the river when 16th century cartographers assumed that Stortford must have been named after it. The Bishop's part comes from William the Norman, Bishop of London, who bought Stortford Manor in 1060.

Around the same period, a motte and bailey castle 'Waytemore Castle' was constructed - this was improved over the centuries and the Grade I listed remains of the 12th century rectangular tower can be seen atop the mound in Castle Gardens. You can't currently access the mound itself, but plans are being put in place to provide some kind of access to this historic site in the future.

shared use path / grange paddocks leisure centre / river stort

On the subject of plans, the park is currently undergoing a bit of a transformation thanks to a successful application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. There are two different areas that make up the park and these were historically managed as completely separate spaces. A joint effort between Bishops Stortford Town Council and Hertfordshire County Council has recently lead to the formation of Castle Park which brings together Castle Gardens and the adjacent Sworders Field.

Sworders Field contains many traditional park elements such as a bandstand, children's playground and skate park. It was gifted to the town by local businessman Joe Brazier in 1928, but the field itself is named after Herbert Sworder who, upon his death in 1933, bequeathed the town £450 for a children's play area in the centre of the town, which was formally opened in 1951. This area provides the start and finish for Castle Park parkrun.

grange paddocks

I visited this venue and ran at their 4th event, I travelled by car and parked in the adjacent Link Road pay and display car park. There are plenty of other parking options including the Causeway car park, but the official venue course page specifically requests that a few other specific car parks are avoided. Had I travelled by train, Bishop's Stortford station is only about five minutes walk away. I didn't see any cycle racks in the park, but there were some across the road outside the library.

There are currently no toilets in the park, so a trip across into the town centre is necessary if you require use of the facilities. The Jackson Square shopping centre is recommended as the best place to go - the toilets here are on floor 0, however they were closed when I visited. The second recommended option is Sainsburys which is in the same shopping centre. Fortunately their toilets were open when I visited. It is also worth noting that the lottery fund cash for Castle Park does include a plan for new toilet facilities to be built.

grange paddocks

The run briefing takes place at the bandstand in Sworders Field, and after this the participants form on the start line adjacent to the train line. The course here is flat and made up of a short start tail followed by two full clockwise laps. At the end of the second lap the runners head back onto Sworders Field for the finish. Underfoot is a mixture of grass and tarmac, however there is more grass than tarmac and it will be pretty muddy during the winter.

The lap itself follows the shared-use tarmac path (watch out for the waist-high posts in the centre of the path) adjacent to the River Stort all the way up to the Grange Paddocks Leisure Centre at which point the course transfers to grass and follows what is officially a grass running track which circumnavigates Grange Paddocks - from what I can see this grass area is not technically part of Castle Park. Grange Paddocks seems to have previously been part of the grounds of The Grange, a large house owned by Sir John Barker of the Barkers department store in London and is still a separate area to the park.

returning to sworders field

Grange Paddocks is laid out with about half-a-dozen football pitches, but around the edge of the open grass field is the aforementioned running track - it's essentially just a slightly mowed grass path which meanders around the field. It is marked with two parallel white lines which make it easy to follow. The parkrun course breaks away from the marked path at the far north end of the course and again follows the river for a short stretch - it was already very muddy around here. The section around Grange Paddocks does require some self-discipline as it is very easy to cut the corners.

After turning and heading back to the south, the course follows the train line back towards Sworders Field. As it leaves Grange Paddocks, underfoot returns to tarmac and there's a chicane to negotiate next to large, imposing, metal footbridge. The path then leads the participants past a playground and the skate park back to the beginning of the loop. Once a second lap has been run, the course turns back onto the open grass area where it heads back through the start and loops round in front of the bandstand until reaching the finish funnel.


Post-run the team head into the town centre for breakfast in The Port Jackson wetherspoons pub. The results for event #4 were processed and published a few hours later. I recorded my run with my Garmin and you can see the GPS data from the course on Strava, I also used that data to create a course fly-by video using the #Relive app. You can view them both via the links below;

Castle Park parkrun course GPS data
Castle Park parkrun #relive fly-by video
Results page for event 4

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Hockley Woods parkrun #138 (my second visit)

I originally visited Hockley Woods parkrun with my daughter and ran it with her in her running buggy, so when the opportunity came up to head over for a solo revisit, I thought it would be a good opportunity to see what kind of time I could run on this course.

However, the date we had picked coincided with the first of the Kent Cross Country League races so in the end I had to keep my pace under control in order to save some energy for later in the day. This opened up the opportunity to run the course at an easier pace and to really take in the location.

First of all, apart from the car park, start line and a couple of points on the course, I couldn't really remember much detail about the route apart from it being almost two laps. Runs in the woods can have this effect as everything looks the same most of the way round.

Due to lots of chatting and not much planning, we ended up starting right near the back of the field, which meant trying to filter through during the run. The paths can be a little narrow in places so this wasn't as easy as it could be on some courses.

It took almost the whole of the first lap to really find some clear air and run at my desired pace - not too fast, but not too slow. A little faster than easy pace, but not quite tempo. At this kind of effort, I felt like I was getting a nice workout, but at the same time was able to take in the beauty of the woods. And they really are beautiful.

Since my last visit, the relive app has been developed and I can now use the it to create course fly-by videos, so I did that with my GPS data and the result can be seen here - Hockley Woods parkrun relive fly-by video. The full results were up online later that morning and can be found here - Hockley Woods parkrun event 138.

At 24 minutes and something, it was a new course best time, which was nice but inevitable. So not quite as fast as I can go on this course. The good news is that there is another visit planned and this does not clash with cross-country so I will be able to put in a proper time trial effort, but will need to be a bit sharper when it comes to the walk to the start line.

My original blog post - Hockley Woods parkrun event 50
All parkruns in the county - The Essex parkrun Venues

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Ultm8 Warrior (Mud Runners Ninjas) 2017

My daughter is still enjoying running at obstacle race events and she is always keen to take part in them as often as possible. We headed over to East Grinstead where she had booked in to take part in the Ultm8 Warrior Mud Runners Ninjas event which was being held alongside the adult Mud Runners event.

It was the second time that we had been to this venue, but the previous time the kids event was linked to a different adult event, Mudstock. The junior obstacle course was set up in the same area as the last time we visited but had a different course configuration and used a different part of the adjacent woods for the muddy sections.

The races/runs are split into age groups of 4-6, 7-9 and 10-13. The main difference between the groups is the total number of laps they run - it's either 1, 2 or 3. Saying that, it is a very relaxed affair and although the kids largely stick to the plan, some kids might end up running more, or less, or something else completely. The main thing is that they are all out there having some fun.

We had also asked one of my daughter's friends to join us and he was keen for me to run with him around the course, so I did that while Matilda headed off at her own pace ahead of us. We all had a lot of muddy fun and the kids were awarded their Mud Monsters Ninjas medals at the end.

Some photos...

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Meridian Line parkruns

A list of all parkruns that are either on, or very close to the meridian line.

All venues from South to North:

  • Peacehaven - passes through the town, just to the west of the parkrun venue
  • East Grinstead - Passes through the venue itself
  • Bromley - passes just to the west of the park
  • Beckenham - passes a few hundred metres from the course
  • Hilly Fields - passes approx 1.5km from the venue
  • Wanstead Flats - passes approx 1km from the venue
  • Hackney Marshes - pass approx  1.5km from the venue
  • Walthamstow - passes a few hundred metres from the venue
  • Gunpowder - Passes through the venue itself (course crosses the line)
  • Westmill - honourable mention - passes the east side of Ware
  • Boston - honourable mention - passes through the east side of the town
  • Cleethorpes - passes through the town, just to the east of the parkrun venue

Top tier: (line passes through the venue/course) (aka 'Direct Hit!')
  • East Grinstead (blog)
  • Gunpowder (blog)

Second tier: (line passes within a kilometre of the venue) (aka 'ooh, so close!')
  • Peacehaven (blog)
  • Beckenham Place (blog)
  • Wanstead Flats (blog)
  • Walthamstow (blog)
  • Cleethorpes (no blog - not visited)

Third tier: (line passes over a kilometre from the venue but still in the locality)
  • Bromley (blog)
  • Hilly Fields (blog)
  • Hackney Marshes (blog)
  • Westmill (blog)
  • Boston (no blog - not visited)

Southwark parkrun #209

Working Monday to Friday and having weekends off is very convenient for me as a parkrunner as it means I never have to factor work into my weekend plans. However, the opportunity to work some overtime came up and I fancied doing it. My only proviso was that I would visit a parkrun before heading to work.

After a few days of looking at previously unvisited venues to visit, I decided that I wanted to be somewhere in between Dartford (home) and Central London (work) where I could leave my car and complete the journey into Central London by public transport. That meant revisiting a venue, but which one?

I considered Lloyd parkrun because its off-road course and hills were exactly what I fancied in the run-up to the cross-country season. Then I decided that I didn't want too far to travel post-run so I seriously considered Hilly Fields parkrun, which still had the hills but so much off-road in nature and is closer to Central London. Finally, logic took hold and Southwark parkrun made the most sense.

run briefing [photo:7t]

I headed out on the Saturday morning, parked near Bermondsey tube station and jogged across to Southwark Park (via Seven Islands Leisure Centre to visit the toilets) for my third visit to this parkrun. The first time I ran here was at the test event where I was first-finisher in a time of 20:02. A few days after that, I ran at the inaugural event and clocked 20:14.

Although I hadn't quite been running times as fast as those recently, I was up for the challenge of trying to set a new course best. I knew it'd be a big ask, but there was no reason not to give it a shot. The weather conditions were favourable - it was fairly cool at around 11 degrees and the wind was negligible.

Looking at some of the previous sets of results, I noticed that these days the venue attracts a good share of very fast runners, so when lining up on the start line I filtered in a few rows back in order to give the faster people space and to avoid getting dragged out too fast.

The course is still the same as it was back at event 1. That means 3 identical flat, anti-clockwise laps with the finish line placed just a little further along the path than the start line to make up the full 5k. With the run briefing done, we were sent on our way. I started out fairly well and settled into my pace nice and early.

There were a few people ahead of me that had started at a faster pace than they could maintain and despite a couple of minor hold-ups I pretty much made my way around the first lap in good shape. Back in 2013 I set up a Strava segment for one complete lap (pretty much a perfect mile) and I ran the first lap segment in 6.30 which was a teeny bit fast but still within my desired pacing window.

Onto the second lap and the field had spread out nicely. I maintained pretty much the same pace and started to lap people from around half-way around. The second lap segment clocked in at 6.32 which was good but my stomach was tightening and I wasn't sure if I could maintain the pace.

I picked up a lot more traffic on the third lap and had to take some corners wider than I would have liked as I lapped other runners. I also had a very minor dog-crossing-the-path incident which broke my stride momentarily, but I quickly got back on pace for the final stretch.

After checking my watch on the approach to the finish funnel, I saw that one final hard push might see me dip under 20 minutes, so against all of the messages my body was giving me to slow down, I picked up the pace to a full sprint and crossed the line. The final lap segment came in at 6.34.

I stopped my watch with 19:59 showing on the screen, and after having my barcode scanned and thanking some of the volunteers, headed off on a slow trot back towards the car and then onwards to work. The next few hours were quite tense as I desperately hoped that the timer had clicked their stopwatch at the same time as I had clicked mine. A 20:00 dead time is my least favourite time to run.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the official results were online and I was very happy to see that I had been officially timed at 19:59. I hadn't run a sub-20 parkrun for over six months, so it was a great feeling being back in the teens. I seriously haven't been this pleased with a result for a long time, so that set me up for a very decent weekend!

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